Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Leave Neil Lennon alone - Wright weighs in behind Celtic boss

Hate victim: Neil Lennon has come under attack throughout his career as player and boss
Hate victim: Neil Lennon has come under attack throughout his career as player and boss
Manager Tommy Wright of St Johnstone

St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright is frustrated at the "raw deal" his former Northern Ireland team-mate Neil Lennon receives.

Lennon last week spoke openly about his bafflement over his status as a hate figure for some in Scottish football after he was pelted with missiles during Aberdeen's League Cup semi-final with St Johnstone at Tynecastle.

The Celtic manager admitted frustration at public misconceptions over his personality and Wright feels his friend is misunderstood.

Wright, who faces Lennon in a Scottish Premiership clash at Celtic Park tomorrow, has known Lennon since their international days and plays golf with the Celtic boss during their summer holidays.

"Everybody sees the football side of everybody but I have known Neil a long, long time and I have found him nothing but good company, a good laugh, and really knowledgeable about football," the Saints boss said.

"He has been at the top of his profession as a player, he has coached at reserve-team level and worked his way up to get one of the top jobs in Europe, and he is still a young man.

"If you're a manager, particularly at Celtic and Rangers, you are in the spotlight all the time, and it's easy for people to try and pick holes in them. But I think he gets a raw deal.

"What happened to him against Aberdeen was a disgrace. It seems he has been targeted like this before in the past.

"I can only speak from my experiences of going to games in Scotland, and the boardrooms are friendly, the supporters have a bit of banter and as long as it's a bit of banter it's fine. But people allegedly throwing things and spitting has no place in society."

The pair's time together at Northern Ireland was cut short when the then Celtic skipper retired from international football after receiving threats.

"He loved his time playing for Northern Ireland," Wright (below) said. "It was sad that he stopped playing.

"When we used to meet up, it was like a family meeting up. We were all really good friends, in all the Northern Ireland squads, in the '80s, '90s and 2000s.

"It was sad to see that Neil had to take a decision to retire from international football. The banter was always good. He kept me going about my training and I won't say what I kept him going about."

Wright knows Lennon will have his team fired up following their William Hill Scottish Cup defeat by Aberdeen.

"They are not only very good players but good professionals and they will be hurting. Good players want to get defeats out of their system and the way to do that is to win the next one.

"I'm expecting them to come out and force the issue."

Meanwhile, Charlie Mulgrew insists early exists from the two domestic cup competitions are not enough to classify Celtic's season as a failure.

The unbeaten Scottish Premiership leaders had already suffered a shock slip up in the League Cup earlier this term when they were beaten 1-0 at Parkhead by Championship outfit Morton before their Scottish Cup exit.

But Mulgrew claims reaching the Champions League group stages to take on European giants Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax and a record run of clean sheets that now stretches to 11 league games is evidence of a worthwhile season.

He said: "No, I don't think the season has been a failure.

"Let's not forget that we played in the Champions League once again this year, which is a massive achievement for us."

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